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28 Feb 1996 : Column WA99

Written Answers

Wednesday, 28th February 1996.

CARIN System

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is the case, as recently reported in the press, that the Philips CARIN "car navigation system" is able to track a car in London from space via orbiting United States military satellites, and what this indicates about the capacity of the United States Administration for the industrial and other espionage activities in the United Kingdom with which the Central Intelligence Agency has recently been tasked, and whether they accept this situation.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): Our understanding is that the Philips CARIN in-vehicle route guidance system can use the signals emitted by the beacons in two or more satellites in the US Global Positioning Satellite System (GPS) to compute the location of a vehicle automatically and to give direction to the driver. However, no communication from the vehicle to the satellites is involved; so the latter 'know' nothing about the location of the vehicle. The CARIN system can also establish the vehicle's position by alternative means quite independent of the GPS. Other in-vehicle systems besides CARIN use GPS to help drivers establish their position. Yachtsmen and hikers pinpoint their positions by GPS and by other navigation devices.

Mr. Eddison James: Visit

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, when the Prime Minister of Dominica, Mr. Eddison James saw the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, MP on 18th December 1995, it was a chance meeting which had not been pre-arranged and that it had not been recorded in the Foreign Secretary's diary; and whether they will give the approximate time and duration of the meeting.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: The meeting was scheduled at short notice during a visit Mr. James was paying to London with the Prime Ministers of St. Lucia and St. Vincent. The meeting took place in the mid-afternoon and lasted approximately 15 minutes.

British Embassies: EU Business Monitoring

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether British embassies in other member countries of the European Communities are required to monitor the implementation and enforcement of EC Laws in those countries.

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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: British embassies in other EU Member States report on the full range of EU business, including the implementation of Community law. This helps us to ensure that the Commission carries out its responsibilities for monitoring the application of EC legislation across the Community.

Air Pollution Control: Fee Scale

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will give details of the 1996-97 charging scheme for local authority air pollution control under Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): Charges to cover the costs of local enforcing authorities in regulating processes which are subject to Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 were introduced in April 1991.

With the approval of the Treasury, and following consultation with local authority associations and industry, my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales have made a revised scheme specifying the scale of fees and charges to take effect from 1st April 1996. My right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland, is revising the parallel scheme for Scotland on the same basis, and will be making a separate announcement.

The main changes are that the standard application fee is increased by £25 to £1,015, the application fee for a former Alkali Act works is increased by £15 to £610, the substantial change fee is increased by £15 to £650, and the annual subsistence charge is increased by £20 to £625.

The scheme will be laid before both Houses and a copy placed in the Libraries.

Rights of Audience in Higher Courts

Lord Ackner asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have decided to accept or reject the advice of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct given (pursuant to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990) on 21st June 1995 to the effect that the Law Society's application for authorisation to grant extended rights of audience in the High Courts to employed solicitors would be incompatible with the proper and efficient administration of justice and should therefore not be approved; and if a decision has not yet been taken on this matter when they expect to make one.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): The application by the Law Society to be authorised to grant rights of audience in the higher courts to employed solicitors is being considered in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Courts and Legal Services

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Act 1990. Schedule 4 to the Act stipulates that such applications are made to me, as Lord Chancellor, and that I am then required to seek the advice of both my Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct and the Director General of Fair Trading, before reaching a decision with the four designated judges (the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Family Division and the Vice-Chancellor) on whether to approve the application. Both sets of advice have now been received and are being considered. An announcement of the decision will be made in due course.

Commonhold: Legislation

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose to introduce legislation for commonhold and if so when.

The Lord Chancellor: The Government propose to introduce this legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Legal Aid: Means Testing

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they plan to take to strengthen the arrangements for means testing applicants for legal aid.

The Lord Chancellor: I have today laid before Parliament regulations which will: a) provide those assessing the means of applicants for legal aid with a discretionary power to include in the means assessment the assets of friends, relatives and children where these appear to be providing a significant material advantage to the applicant: b) place a limit of £100,000 on the amount of equity value in a house that is ignored in the legal aid means assessment. The regulations also limit the maximum amount of mortgage that can be offset against the equity value of a house to £100,000 and limit the amount of mortgage repayment allowable against income to the amount due on a £100,000 mortgage.

These regulations will come into effect for applications for legal aid made on or after 1st June 1996. Both of these measures are being taken as a result of the consultation exercise on legal aid for the "apparently wealthy" which was undertaken in 1995. Also as a result of that consultation exercise, I announced last year that I intended that a special investigations unit should be established to handle legal aid means assessments where the applicant's financial circumstances are exceptionally complex. I invited the Legal Aid Board to advise me on the feasibility of establishing such a unit.

The Legal Aid Board has now submitted its report and I have placed a copy in the Library. I have accepted the central recommendations in the report and have invited the Legal Aid Board to take the necessary steps

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to ensure that the special investigations unit is fully operational as soon as possible.

The special investigations unit will build on the prototype of such a unit set up by the Benefits Agency in its Legal Aid Assessment Office at Preston in June 1995. This unit is already investigating certain cases.

Initially, the unit will deal with applications for civil legal aid, but it will be extended as soon as possible to cover both civil and criminal legal aid. Referrals to the unit will be made, in civil cases, by the Legal Aid Board or the existing staff of the Legal Aid Assessment Office and, in criminal cases, by the court or court clerk. They will be invited to refer cases to the unit when a) they are of the opinion that the means information provided merits further investigation, verification or expert evaluation by the Special Investigations Unit, and b) one or more of the following appears to apply:

    (i) the applicant or partner has assets overseas;

    (ii) the applicant or partner has access to assets or income apparently owned by others;

    (iii) the applicant or partner has a wealthy lifestyle, such as an expensive car, house or jewellery, or is able to indulge in significant foreign travel;

    (iv) the applicant or partner has interests in a business with substantial assets;

    (v) the applicant or partner has other complex personal financial affairs, which may include personal insolvency or having assets subject to a mareva injunction or an asset freezing order.

    (vi) legal claims of significant value are being pursued by or against the applicant or partner;

    (vii) the applicant or partner is reputed to have significant income or assets;

    (viii) the applicant or partner has re-arranged their financial affairs so that they now apparently qualify for legal aid.

The unit will be headed by a qualified accountant and will be empowered to seek outside expert assistance when this seems appropriate.

The Government are fully committed to ensuring that legal aid is only granted to those who are entitled, under the regulations, to receive it, and believes that the establishment, and further development, of the Special Investigations Unit is an important step in meeting that commitment.

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